Anthony Viscount Montague's Book of Orders and Rules 1595

A noble household in Elizabethan England

Managing a noble household in Elizabethan England

Edited, mapped, and modernized from "A Book of Orders and Rules", by Sir Sibbald David Scott, in Sussex Archaeological Collections, vol. vii, London (1854) by Maggie Secara and available in PDF form.

Lord Anthony Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montague (also rendered Montacute) wrote the "Book of Orders and Rules" in 1595, when he was just 21/22, for the "better direction and government of my household and family, together with the several duties and charges appertaining to mine officers and other servants".

In this document, the young Viscount sounds somewhat defensive. His father had died before his grandfather, so young Anthony inherited at the age of 18 a noble household that had long been under the hand of one man who had gotten old and sick in Queen Elizabeth I's service. It appears as though the staff had gotten used to doing things without much supervision or accountability, and may have gotten very lax in performance. He mentions several times, for example, that the woods and meadows both need looking into.

The senior staff in particular may have developed a little attitude problem about what "perks" of office were theirs of right and ancient custom, as opposed to the generous hand of their master. At the time of writing, they are likely still thinking of their new viscount as "the boy", who doesn't understand how we do things around here. In the end we see his lordship taking back all privileges to remind them that they come from him, not from some inalienable right. And he'll choose to restore them one at a time, maybe, if he sees fit to do so.

You can see his defensiveness but also his serious determination in his consistent use of the possessive in referring to his servants. These people are my steward, my grooms, the clerke of my kitchen. When he states clearly what is his will with every sentence, he means that he's in charge and no two ways about it. In fact, the phrase "I will" appears more than 180 times!

One curious thing. In the course of establishing himself as the source of all their contentment and reward, this young Catholic peer, in a religious and troublesome age, never mentions God at all and the Queen only once–when acknowledging "the degree of that place and calling wherein by Her Majesty's favor I now live." Perhaps he felt it best, or was so advised, to keep the focus on the immediate issues of house and home, where he alone is lord, and leave religion out of it.

The "Book of Orders and Rules" offers a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of a noble household in Elizabethan England.

"A Book of Orders and Rules" [PDF]


7 August 2008 pkm